Jon Sim scored once and assisted on Steve Rucchin’s go-ahead goal 27 seconds into the third period, lifting backup goalie Johan Hedberg and the first-place Atlanta Thrashers past the last-place Washington Capitals 4-3 Friday night. Dainius Zubrus scored twice for Washington, which has lost all three games against Atlanta this season by the same score, although one ended in a shootout and another in overtime.
“Right now, they’re one goal better than us,” Capitals coach Glen Hanlon said. “They’re at the top of our pack in the Southeast, and we look at them as where we have to get to.”
Atlanta ended a two-game losing streak, but not before trailing 2-0 as the second period neared the midway mark. The Thrashers then netted three goals in less than 3 1/2 minutes, helped by some odd bounces off Capitals. Two of those goals came in 4-on-4 situations.
“The key was the willingness of the guys to go to the net and create that chaos near the crease and make some tough plays for their goaltender,” Rucchin said.
Zubrus’ second goal of the game and ninth of the season, with 5.3 seconds left in the second period, made it 3-3 heading into the final period. Rucchin changed that right away.
Sim brought the puck to the blue line, where he passed it to Rucchin. No one from the Capitals really challenged the centre, and Rucchin lifted a backhanded shot between goalie Olie Kolzig and the near post.
“It was just a great pass,” Rucchin said. “He was able to get it to me in the middle of the ice there, with a little bit of room. I was the beneficiary.”
Said Hanlon, a former goalie: “Likely the worst thing for a goaltender is to come out of the break with a scoring chance in the very first minute. You’d always hope as a goalie to get an opportunity to break in.”
Hedberg was making only his second start and third appearance of the season, replacing Kari Lehtonen, who was pulled from Atlanta’s previous game after giving up four goals on 13 shots.
Hedberg was steady enough, finishing with 24 saves, seven in the third period.
“He gave us some big saves,” Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said. “Plus, he moves the puck so well. He’s real good around the net, takes pressure off the defencemen.”
Hartley said he hasn’t decided who’ll start in the net in Atlanta’s next game, at the New York Islanders on Saturday.
“The result is good, so that’s all that matters,” Hedberg said. “I’m still trying to find a rhythm.”
Washington went ahead 2-0 thanks to Zubrus’ power-play goal and Chris Clark’s short-handed breakaway score. Sim’s seventh goal opened Atlanta’s three-goal spurt 11:35 into the second period. Greg de Vries was credited with the goal that made it 2-2 at 14:17, and Vyacheslav Kozlov was credited with the next one, 35 seconds later.
“We’ve had leads plenty of times this year and blown them, and that’s something we have to turn around. We’re a better team than what our record is,” said Clark, Washington’s captain. “Even though it’s early in the game with a two-goal lead, we have to come out and learn how to play with that lead.”
Notes: It was the first time Washington lost in regulation after scoring first. The Capitals had been 3-0-2 when taking a 1-0 lead. … Washington is 0-5 in one-goal games. … Zubrus’ second goal of the night came after a goalmouth scramble and was initially waved off because officials thought a hand pass was made, then awarded after a video review.